Memory finally corrected us. We first met in Warsaw sometime in June 1987 . Back then, almost in another life , it was a different Poland , hidden , if not completely but still with a communist regime behind the Berlin wall . Things would of course change radically just a few years later.
At the time i was the young head-coach for Halmstads BTK , today a well established top club in Sweden. We were desperately looking for a top flight player for our first team. Through Tomas Berner , at the time with Stiga in Tranås, came the message that a certain Leszek Kucharski from Poland was looking for the opportunity to play abroad. It didnt take long before a car with the club delegation including the chair, treasurer and myself left Halmstad heading south in the direction of Warsaw, Poland.
A brief overnight ferry crossing, a polish custom experience and a couple of obligatory speeding controls slowed us down but we finally arrived to Warsaw late evening . The following morning we had a scheduled meeting with the Polish sport ministry, a daunting task of course given that i was the only one who spoke any English or German at all.
Little did we know what to expect from this meeting. The reception when we arrived added considerable pressure. TV cameras and journalists toured the meeting room that had a large government delegation seated. The sport minster , a man that seemingly enjoyed a good cigar or two, took the floor with great confidence , declaring that he was just returning from a successful negotiation with a German Bundesliga club concerning the potential release of some Polish soccer players.
” I have given this matter considerable thoughts the minister said offering us the possibility to sign the release papers for an amount of 60,000 USD and continued “ But since the weather in Warsaw today is great and the sun is shining i am ready to lower the amount with US 5,000″
To make a long story short a two hours meeting did not get us any closer to a solution. We had our budget and also the players living expenses + salary to consider. Leszek was of course waiting anxiously outside the meeting room. We finally agreed with some regional polish table tennis officials participating in the meeting to send an offer by fax and telex . They also gave us some good hints how to set it up.So we did, upon returning to Sweden. The waiting game could begin.
Time however passed quickly that summer and with no answer from Poland we had to proceed with Plan B which included signing Paul Halden from the Netherlands as our foriegn player. Now late in July and with the league just a few month away Halden was called up from Holland to arrive in Halmstad to sign his contract.
The very same morning as the Halden contract was put in print , basically with the player himself waiting to put his signature the local newspaper called… Congratulations said Roy Sjogren the beat-writer for Hallandsposten. “I have a telex message from Poland with the acceptance of your offer” Roy said ..If i remember correctly the winning approach included a large shipping of equipment from Stiga and a smaller cash amount on top.. So… we had to send back a furious Dutch nr one player and await the arrival of our newcomer Lezcek Lezcek “>Kucharksi, who eventually turned up in late August with his young family . It was a rather enjoyable experience to have Lezcek in the team .. We did hang in there and avoided relegation that year , which was our main goal.
The following year i said goodbye to my club duties for Halmstad and started my international coaching journey as the national coach for Denmark, a position i held for seven years. As for Lezcek , he played another two years in Sweden , signed in Germany for two years ,but returned to Poland after only one year in the German first division.
To work in and with Table Tennis has always been the goal for Leszek, who inherited the passion for the game from his mother already in his childhood. Playing at his highest level in the mid eighties he was a scary and skilled player – excellent against the defensive style . However he would also be known for his antics in the court when an often raging polish temper took over. It could be ugly at times , although the intention according to , was just to “punish” himself… At least that was his mental strategy more than anything .
Overtime he would become something like “the bad boy of table tennis” – always drawing spectators to his table at major events in anticipation of potential happenings.
Returning to Poland in the early nineties it did not take long before coaching took over. Several years of national coaching duties – such as the junior national team coach and an engagement with the Polish women’s team are now about to end following a year of contractual dispute with the Polish Table Tennis Association and nagging back problems that forced an operation and considerable sick leave from his coaching duties.
What lies ahead for Lezcek is yet to be known;“To be honest i am not sure. For the moment i am looking for work and i know that i would like to continue to be involved with Table Tennis” he said earlier today.
There is no doubt in my mind that Leszek still has a lot to offer as a coach. Its fun to see him walking around interacting with the young players here in Japan . Sure , we are dealing with a fairly stubborn , strong minded coach that i am sure is not that easy to handle. But given the fact that result never has been lacking during his time in Poland his services should be sought after soon enough . I remember thinking that his work with the Polish Junior Girls national team in the Palo Alto World Juniors 2007 was of the impressive sort . It is easy forget that the Polish girls team actually won a medal that year.
Twenty two years have passed since that day in 1987. Here we are again teaming up to stage the 2009 ITTF Cadet Challenge training camp at the impressive national training center in Japan. He as the head coach and I “relegated” to official duties with the laptop constantly lit in my fairly new ITTF Director role.
Jumped over the surrounds a couple of times , just to get the proper floor feeling again.. It did take long to feel the passion for coaching coming back. But then again an email or two was waiting to be answered .. So more like ; Tough luck Mr Andersson – Good luck Mr Kucharski – always good to see yu in action. Least we forget that you indeed could play better than most;